Founded in the UK by four sisters of Nigerian origin, (“the Aghoghovbia girls”, according to co-founder and head of operations Vese Aghoghovbia 'Wolu), DVees has a range of food and drink products all of which add African flavours to formats that are familiar to European consumers.
The start-up’s range includes Zobo hibiscus tea, Scotch bonnet mayonnaise and Rodo sauce, a blend of scotch bonnet peppers, herbs and spices that can be used as a dip or marinade.
Its best-selling product, however, is Chapman, a non-alcoholic cocktail from Nigeria that is known as ‘the Sangria of West Africa’.
Made with an infusion of citrus, hibiscus and cucumber, blackcurrant and aromatic spices, DVees’ has developed its own formulation, that according to Aghoghovbia 'Wolu, is a closely guarded family secret.
‘West African flavours are there – but not in accessible formats’
While many Indian and Chinese dishes are as familiar to Western European palates as pizza, West African dishes still remain relatively unknown.
That said, there has been a recent burst in high-end, West African fusion restaurants opening – Chuku’s, Lerato and Ikoyi in London are some examples – and this shows that interest is there, said Aghoghovbia 'Wolu.
“London is a melting pot of cultures and has a contemporary culinary cultur but not many people have made it accessible and presented it beautifully,” she told FoodNavigator.
“Food from other regions are more readily embraced by the Western world and we believe the reason is visibility and packaging. As such, our aim is to present West African food in a more appealing and commercially viable way to an international audience.”
“Diversity begins with little things, like the acceptance of food, music and culture [and] we are looking to break barriers by making West African flavours popular not just in London but in other UK regions and Europe.”
‘Telling new stories about Africa’
The four female entrepreneurs behind DVees are convinced that food can be a powerful tool to raise awareness of West African culture around the world. Aghoghovbia 'Wolu said their philosophy is best summarised by New York-based artist Zina Saro-Wiwa, who works with video, photography, sculpture, sound and food.
“I have always suspected that food could play a big part in telling new stories about Africa" said Saro-Wiwa. "When it comes to the outside world, there is no doubt that West African cuisine is one of the least experienced and least understood on the planet. This is a shame because West African food is amazing and I feel like a powerful exchange occurs when you eat another culture’s food. West Africa misses out on this exchange.”
DVees products are currently on sale in restaurants around London as well as online retailers, including Amazon, Not On The High Street and its own e-commerce shop.
According to Aghoghovbia 'Wolu, it has secured several new distribution partnerships, which will kick in over the next few months. It is also considering crowdfunding.
“Being a start-up, our biggest challenge has been getting access to the right distribution channels and buyers. However, we are positive and expectant," she said.
“The next step for us is establishing more partnerships with restaurants, stores and private companies. We are currently working on various initiatives to enable us exploit new market routes and identify opportunities to sell more [...], especially to big retailers.”